When working or studying abroad in China, expats cannot really survive without an expat forum. It is where we find new jobs, roommates, Chinese lessons, new partners, housing, and fun things to do and see. Indeed these forums are invaluable and eventually we come to trust them as “one of us”. But in recent days a serious problem was brought to our attention by a three different groups of foreign teachers and the China Foreign Teachers Union as well as old members from the now-defunct China Teachers Alliance, and perhaps the trust we place in these forums should not be automatic.
Before we delve into the problem, we want to be fair and say that these forums are staffed by perhaps fifty people including writers, editors, graphic designers, webmasters, etc. and they need to be paid. Nobody works for free – especially in China. Thus these expat forums are loaded with paid and free advertising to generate enough revenues to keep the lights on, make payroll, and perhaps even a million rmb of profit every year.
Now the problem, it seems that China has an abundance of scam artists that prey on foreign residents, tourists, and especially foreign teachers as the below links spell out in greater detail.
By nature, con artists are devious and surely not stupid – especially in China. They know that to lure large numbers of prospective scam victims they need a large and “trusted” net with a big ball of great bait in the middle. Thus they have resorted to running hundreds of ads on echinacities.com, thebeijinger.com, and perhaps two dozens other forums in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang, etc. The scammers are unlicensed “agents” and unregistered shady “recruiters” who use “jobs with Z visas” as their bait. They pose as “direct employers” and post dozens of new ads every day. Veteran expats are hip to the scam but newbies are not. They do not know the ropes nor do they know that approximately 20% of these ads are fronts for identity thieves who only want to obtain resumes, and scans of passports and visas. To get them they will advertise great paying jobs with high salaries that well, simply do not exist. See this link for details about the ID thieves based in Fujian Province. http://open.salon.com/blog/china_business_central/2013/03/13/phony_china_recruiters_now_target_5000_expats_monthly_1
The other 80% of the agents simply want to carve out 40%-66% of a teacher’s salary for simply making an introduction to a real “direct employer” whose principals collect kick-backs and become millionaires within two years of meeting just two or three “helpful” agents. This link explains that very lucrative and symbiotic relationship in depth:
Eventually these sly schemers get exposed and the culprits get blacklisted on various ESL message boards and blacklists. But the expat forums continue to accept their ads – and monies even after learning the advertisers are victimizing their own audience. A conflict of interest? We at China Scam Patrol think “yes”. Recently, at the Beijinger.com and Echinacities.com, one of their long-time advertisers (China ESL – owned by Rebecca Tang) was exposed as a greedy fraudster and one of her signed contracts was posted indicating that she collects 66% of a teacher’s salary, and in her own post, she openly admitted violating Chinese law by charging money for both invitation and release letters. Her contract further says that any teacher who does not cooperate with her unpaid overtime and other questionable policies, will be “blacklisted”.
These posts received over 3,000 visits at theBeijinger.com and would have received even more at echinacities had they not deleted one post and locked yet another thread that was getting too close to the issue at this link: http://answers.echinacities.com/node/115523 So, now the question begs some answers… Where should expat forums draw the line? Do they have a greater responsibility to protect their audience/readers from scams, or to generate an income? How long can they claim ignorance when 30-40 users post comments about the scams for over 3 consecutive weeks. Here are the two links from the.Beijinger… http://www.thebeijinger.com/forum/2013/01/31/beware-chinaesl-scam-alert-rebecca-tang-will-rip-you and http://www.thebeijinger.com/node/1592803
We commend theBeijinger.com for at least letting readers debate and openly discuss the issue, although some explanation as to why user “Bannoy’s” two year old post about blacklisted schools and agents and the CFTU’s comments were deleted are in order. Echinacities.com has a very bad habit of trying to hide matters by deleting posts and locking threads. These tactics do not go unnoticed and we certainly resent being banned for trying to start a thread about this very subject in your “Answers” section. And when we referenced a link at Echinacities.com that actually opened the discussion, that post was promptly deleted to avoid any evidence that the matter had been brought to the attention of the editors. Sometimes ignorance is bliss if you do not want to be accused of betraying your own customers/readers.
Roughly a dozen people tried to make an issue of the obvious censorship but were quickly deleted and then “admin” suggested that all those who disagreed with his moderators must be the same person using the same IP! One poster proved this theory to be highly unlikely since two posters were posting from different countries and approximately 80% of the expats in China posting online use VPN services that hide their true IP address. The thread that was locked for convenience read “Should expat forums accept ads from scam artists that cheat foreigners?” It was posted by user “Pegasus” who was banned for asking that legitimate question within 30 minutes of posting it. It was “Pegasus” by the way, who first brought this matter to our attention a month ago. This is the link that was locked: http://answers.echinacities.com/node/115523
There is apparently so much censorship going on at echinacities.com that users have resorted to sending one another PMs (personal messages) to warn one another! http://answers.echinacities.com/question/site-just-waste-time-please-do-not-try-enlist-me-any-nonsense-who-agrees? For the record China Scam Patrol was banned from ECC and when we asked why by email to both Admin and the owner (George Xu) we received no reply. The comment that got us banned was asking if Echinacities was owned by a foreign or Chinese company and if the moderators were Chinese or foreigners? We still believe now as we did three months ago, that these are legitimate questions that deserve an answer. At the beijinger.com, no less than a dozen people complained about censorship issues at Echinacities.com. Favoritism or fact? We can only speak for our own experience which smelled foul and fishy to us.
To be clear, we are not condemning either expat forum here, but rather trying to stop an ongoing problem with a proposed solution as follows:
1) Every advertiser of expat forums should be screened and required to post their full legal names, and a scan of their SAIC or Ministry of Education registration form/license.
2) Agents and Recruiters must be identified as such and if caught claiming to be a “direct employer” banned for 90 days on the first offense and permanently if they do it again.
3) All expat forums should be open to accepting comments, questions, and proposed solutions without deletions and banning people simply because they disagree with a moderator who was once employed by China ESL and still collects an income from them. It is bad enough that we must endure media censorship in this country, but we should not have to accept it from expat forums as well
Lastly, we suggest that every expat employee in China avoid using agents altogether, since this is where 80% of the scams originate. This article explains 10 reasons why agents are not good for your economic welfare: http://www.cleverchinacheaters.com/2012/09/10-reasons-why-you-should-never-use.html
Those who like the convenience of an agent and are willing to give up a big chunk of their earnings and personal data to a stranger, should at least demand full disclosure from the agent, so if thinks do go South, the police will at least know who swindled you. The below form created by the CFTU will help you cover your ass in this regard.
Those wanting the behind the scenes machinations of this ongoing hide-and-seek may want to read these two blogs: http://craighillchinadailymail.blogspot.co.uk/ and https://chinascampatrol.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/is-the-china-daily-post-and-editor-craig-hill-a-shill-scam/